Celebrating a free, democratic, united South Africa

HISHAAM MOHAMED

Yesterday, Wednesday April 27, was our Freedom Day. On this day we celebrate a day that marks the birth of our democracy. Freedom Day gives us the opportunity to reflect on the past struggles for equality, justice and freedom as well as the progress we have made since 1994 to meet the demands of the Freedom Charter and ensure a free, democratic and united South Africa.

This Freedom month marks the 20th anniversary since our Constitution was signed into law at Sharpeville on December 10 1996.

It is a month during which we also reflect on more than 20 years of our democracy. We reflect on the last words of the late Solomon Mahlangu before he was hanged by the prison authorities of the Apartheid regime on the April 6 1979: “My blood will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom. Tell my people I love them and they must continue to fight”.

The ultimate sacrifice by Mr Mahlangu, Oliver Tambo, Chris Hani and others who all passed on during the month of April cannot be in vain.

Let us therefore continue to serve our people – the poorest of the poor. Let us remind ourselves that the Preamble to the Constitution expressly states that the Constitution was adopted so as to:

* Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;

* Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law.

* Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person.

Given our history of conflict and the scars inflicted by the Apartheid past, we were always going to have to recognize the injustices of the past.

In so doing, we should move forward in building a community based on democratic values such as human dignity; the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms. We therefore have a duty to improve the quality of life of our local community and free the potential of each person to enable them to be self-sufficient in accessing justice.

Facts about our Constitution

* Over two million participated in the making of the South African Constitution.

* The Constitution is the supreme law of our country – that is why it is essential that you familiarise yourself with its contents.

* Over the past 20 years there have been 17 amendments to the South African Constitution.

Each new amendment was made with the intention to improve our justice system and create a better life for all South Africans.

* Our Bill of Rights does indeed speak from the soul. It speaks from the soul of a divided nation, a nation which still today has to deal with the legacy of centuries of human rights abuses. It speaks of hope of a better future.

* As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of our Constitution this year, it is a time to reflect on our country’s journey from Apartheid to a constitutional democracy, on how far we have come to build a human rights-based culture, and what still needs to be done.

The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development plays an important role in this regard. Our key mandate being Constitutional development and human rights’ promoting access to justice for all, with a particular emphasis on impoverished and marginalised communities, the transformation of the justice sector and our society to one premised on the values underpinning our Constitution, being dignity, equality, and non-discrimination.

* Advocate Hishaam Mohamed is the regional head for the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development.